Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: CES 2019: The Big Trends for Business

CES 2019: 5G, AI, design and data collide

The big themes that will emerge at CES 2019 are really like installments on broader business trends. We aim to separate the fact from fiction.

CES 2019 preview: Separating facts from hype CES 2019 will bring 5G, AI, design and data collide as big topics. ZDNet's Larry Dignan talks with TechRepublic's Karen Roby about the big themes to come from CES 2019.

CES 2019 will bring the traditional deluge of consumer electronics devices, but the business implications will be critical as everything becomes connected and the data generated by the hardware becomes the real asset.

While CES traditionally revolves around consumer devices, most of them also will have business use cases. Here's a look at three emergent trends at CES 2019 that have business technology implications.

5G: The hype, the disappointment, the 2020 timeline

If you thought the 5G hype cycle in 2018 was bad just wait to see how 2019 unfolds. As CES 2019 kicks off it's worth noting that both Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg and AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan are headliners, and both will talk up the so-called 5G revolution.

AT&T and Verizon have both rolled out pilots for 5G and are adding markets now, while T-Mobile has also talked up speedier connections -- as has its merger partner Sprint. One common thread is that these carriers are talking about 5G's enterprise applications as much as the consumer benefit.

Also: CNET CES 2019 | 14 questions CES 2019 needs to answer

On the device front, Samsung and the army of Android device makers will embrace 5G relatively quickly, but keep in mind three things:

  • 5G will be a marketing event in 2019, but not necessarily a mass market opportunity. Toward the second half of the year, devices leveraging 5G will become more common. That product cadence reality means you'll hear about 5G enablement non-stop at CES. After all, most of the products announced at CES don't go mass market until later in the year -- if at all.
  • There are significant details that need to be ironed out. Standards for 5G aren't fully baked yet and it's unclear how plans will be priced. 5G may be great, but the price has to be right to spur adoption.
  • 5G is more of an enterprise technology story, with edge computing and Internet-of-everything applications landing well before any fancy devices.

It's worth keeping the 5G CES talk in perspective given that Mobile World Congress in February will feature much of the same banter and disconnect with reality.

AI everywhere

Let's get real. CES 2019 is less about the hardware and more about the software. That 'software-takes-over-the-world' theme means CES, which traditionally revolves around hardware, has a few complicated pivots to manage.

And given that no software will exist without artificial intelligence, rest assured that the barrage of product news will have a bunch of newfangled AI uses.

Like what? Think toothbrushes. Think better robotics and home helpers. Think autonomous everything. Think dozens of AI-enabled wearables and sensors to track health issues.

The last two CES events featured a heavy dose of Amazon's Alexa platform. Alexa Everywhere became a mantra in 2017 and only gained momentum in 2018. CES 2019 may bring more high-minded AI talk.

For instance, IBM's Ginni Rometty is likely to talk about the role of trust in artificial intelligence. Other CEOs are likely to follow that trust theme. After all, AI embedded everywhere without checks and balances is a recipe for disaster. 

Primers: 

Design meets data

CES 2019 typically brings a few quirky designs as well as partnerships that move design forward. What's unclear is whether CES will feature ground-breaking innovations like foldable phones, or simply more thoughtful product additions that make life easier.

Here are a few design moving parts to consider.

  • For companies like HP, Lenovo and Dell, there are design advances to improve product visuals as well as less notable items that actually make life easier. Things like more battery life, a focus on device volume over the thin obsession, and user interface improvements go farther in the day-to-day than something more adventurous.
  • Are there collaborations between companies that will matter? It's becoming clear that design is everything, but no company can do it all. The CES roster features a bevy of companies that should be working together to advance a product category.
  • Can design choices become invisible? The best designed products are ones that fade into the background. Think Amazon's Kindle and how you barely notice it while you read. With technology being embedded in every device, the real design challenge becomes making everyday items as invisible as before, even though there are real software advances in play.
  • How is data science and design combining? Devices have more data on usage than ever. Whether this data actually allows products to evolve over time remains to be seen. 

Also: Google Chrome's new UI is ugly, and people are very angry

Peak Apple, peak smartphone?

Like previous years, the conversation about products and the tech market revolve around a company that isn't even participating. It's safe to say that CES 2019 will feature a lot of chatter about Apple.

Apple said its first quarter revenue will be lower than expected due to a slowdown in China as well as slow iPhone upgrades in other markets.

Has the iPhone peaked? And what's next if the iPhone has peaked? If you zoom out more nearly every smartphone related announcement will be haunted by those Apple questions. Given that most smartphone announcements will be held until Mobile World Congress, the Apple question will remain front and center for the mobile industry.

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